There’s a life-size model of a Jack Russell facing the door as I go in.
‘Wow! He’s realistic!’ I say to Babs, patting the dog on the head.
‘That’s the point,’ she says. ‘To scare people off.’
‘He’s very well behaved, though,’ I say, bending down to pat him on the head. ‘Good boy.’
‘It’s plastic,’ she says, then hobbles at top speed back along the empty corridor, suddenly lurching to the left into her living room. I follow her, wondering what information might have been left off the referral.
The living room is even more startling than the hallway. It’s like being on the set of a trippy psychological thriller. The wallpaper doesn’t help – broad red vertical stripes on a candy yellow background. All the furniture is duplicated, as perfectly as if someone had slid a mirror down the centre of the room. There are two toy collie dogs sitting to attention right and left of the fireplace; two Chinese saucers, right and left of the low coffee table (one with a set of teeth); two rattan chairs with identical cushions in opposite corners of the room; two bookcases, each set with four ornamental unicorn heads.
Babs picks one up and holds it out to me.
‘I’m going up town to get a couple more tomorrow,’ she says. ‘Look!’
I turn it round and round in my hands. The unicorn has a disappointed look, like someone ran up to a horse and rammed an ice cream cone on its head.
I know how it feels.
‘Lovely’ I say.
Babs puts it back on the bookshelf and begins pacing around.
‘Who sent you?’ she says.
‘Doctor Jones? I’ll kill him. I’ll go down the surgery and string him up. Interfering… Why d’he send you?’
‘I think he just wants to make sure you’re okay. After your recent hospital stay and everything.’
‘I’ll show him okay!’
In an effort to mollify Babs and get her on side, I explain clearly and calmly who the Rapid Response Team are and what we do.
‘Maybe there are ways we can help,’ I say, self-consciously adopting a neutral posture in the chair.
‘Well I don’t know. Bits of equipment. Shopping. Someone to help with your meds. Whatever! Some physiotherapy…’
‘Physiotherapy? Why would I want that?’
‘You know – to help you get better.’
‘Doctor Jones!’ she says again. ‘What’s he like? I’m going to ring him up and tell him what I think…’
She grabs at the phone, picks it up and for a horrible moment I think she’s dialled 999.
‘Are you all right?’ I ask her.
She hangs up.
‘I’ll tell him later,’ she says. ‘Now then. What are you going to do?’
She stares at me, her eyes fixed and dark, like someone made a quick sketch of an anxious face and scribbled worry lines either side of the nose.
‘Can I do your blood pressure, temperature, that kind of thing? But I won’t do anything you don’t want to do…’
‘That’s all right,’ she says, throwing herself down into one of the chairs and bunching up her sleeve. ‘If Doctor Jones wants you to do it, I suppose you’d better.’
She carries on talking whilst I take her blood pressure.
‘I want to do something for him,’ she says. ‘I want to show him how grateful I am. So I think what I’ll do is get a card made. Special, like.’
She stares at me.
‘At a card shop. One of them ones that plays music.’
‘Yeah?’ I say, slinging the steth round my neck and writing down the reading. ‘Lovely. What sort of music?’
‘I don’t know. What do you think?’
‘How about Thank you for the music?’ I sing a couple of bars.
‘Thank you for the music?’ she says. ‘He’s a doctor.’
‘It’s the first thing that came to mind.’
She pulls down her sleeve and folds her arms.
‘I was thinking more of the death march.’